We watched with heavy hearts as Hurricane Hermine bore relentlessly toward Cedar Key, feeling as helpless as onlookers of a multi-car pileup on the other side of the highway. “NOT CEDAR KEY!” we cried out, as if it would be okay if the hurricane devastated a nearby town not as beloved to us.
You’ve seen on the news the bleak, almost overwhelming mess left to the residents and business owners to clean up and try to resurrect these parts of their lives and livelihoods. What you may not have seen is the indomitable pluck and grit of these people who are coming together with high spirits and optimism to rebuild, along with the help of friends and strangers – well, angels, really.
Having spent a magical weekend here a year or so ago, we placed this winsome little town in our top three all-time favorites (and, as I mention below, actually looked at real estate here despite the fact that we’re happy as clams in our little slice of paradise on the opposite coast.) We know that all will be okay, eventually, and the sunshine will come skating through once again for Cedar Key. But in the meantime, if you can’t drive over and help with the cleanup, or patronize the businesses who have been able to reopen, here are some links for donating so that life as they, and we, and everyone who came here and fell in love, knew it:
For Nicholas Soldatos – Papou Nick – who lost his business Niko’s Bait Bucket, in the hurricane. Papou Nick has always helped his neighbors and will use the proceeds to wood, paint and supplies to rebuild staircases, decks and railings so that people can access their businesses, read more at gofundme.com/2nmse7
You can get frequent updates of heartwarming news and ongoing needs by following Cedar Key Dockstreet on Facebook, click here.
And to know Cedar Key as it was, and will be again – even better, we’re certain of it – read our account of our visit, below.
Cedar Key, Florida: A Slice of Key West, Without the Crazies and the Crowds
Not that there is anything wrong with crazy, especially when you are expecting and looking forward to crazy, and crazy delivers. But a slowed-down town with old Florida charm and whimsy, picket fences, historic cottages, art galleries, and plenty of restaurants to keep you happily full, that is quirky and jovial but also quiet and a great place to just wander and contemplate… sometimes we want just that, with no crazy. And definitely no crowds.
When we first drove onto Main Street I was practically out of my seat, my face mashed against the window. My heart was leaping out of my chest, I do not exaggerate. The two nights we stayed there were not enough, and guess what we did that we have never done since finding our tiny paradise-ical beach bungalow: We looked at REAL ESTATE here!
Cedar Key (you know it’s nowhere near The Keys, right? Think northwest Gulf coast, about halfway between Tampa and Tallahassee) has an intriguing/embarrassing history.
Yes, as in most Florida towns the Indians, the Spanish, and a surfeit of pirates checker the past. As do some fierce Civil War battles. But the intriguing part is that both the Faber and the Eagle pencil companies established cedar saw mills on the island that is now Cedar Key (Way Key, then) and on Atsena Otie Key (called Cedar Key then; I know, confusing) and the world’s supply of pencils came from the trees here. A hurricane in 1896 wiped out the mills, and the town of Atsena Otie, and all that remains today is a graveyard with headstones dating from the early 1800’s. Some say it’s haunted. We wanted to kayak out there, but it was too damned hot.
The embarrassing part is how congress, in 1842, enacted the Armed Occupation Act, to increase white settlement and to force the Seminole Indians away. Seems unjust. I can picture all those self-important bullies roaring around taking things over. Not that I was there or anything, and my son would tell me not to spout off about who was right or who was wrong without knowing the facts (and then he would go on Reddit and give me so many sources and articles my eyes would roll back in my head.)
Nevertheless, it all turned out fine because Cedar Key is a sunny, friendly place on Florida’s Nature Coast voted in the Top 10 America’s Coolest Small Towns. Famous for their clams, as well as a great place to kayak, fish, bird watch, find unique art, and sit on a bar stool feeling blessed by the sun, sky, and the shimmering waters.
For you beach lovers, there is a small, white sand municipal park beach with a nearby bandshell and facilities. But save your beaching for another day, because there is so much more to do here than splay yourself out in the sand.
We saw boats continuously motoring in and out of the harbor, and everyone looked happy and some proudly held up their catch of the day. We’ll boat and fish next time (yes, we wimped out because of the heat and because there were so many other things to do.) Here is a partial list of boat tour and rental companies, click each for more info:
420 Dock St.
- VIBE: More intimate than you’d think, looking at the front of the building. Attentive, friendly staff.
- ARRIVE: There is some parking along the street but not much. Before you cross over the bridge to Dock St. there are public parking lots.
- SIT: Most of the seating is inside, but there are a few tables outside on a narrow balcony.
- SIP: Happy Hour is 3 – 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- NOSH: We split the Portobello and Blue Crab pastry entree and it was amazing! (A bit messy to share…)
- LISTEN: Live music on the weekends.
- WE LOVE: The decor, and while some of it was the typical beach bar stuff, there was much that was unique and I was snapping away for ideas for our beach bungalow!
3rd and G Streets
Faraway Inn rocked our world. In the quietest, most soothing, all-is-well-with-the-world-here vibe. And while we have never met a crabby innkeeper or mom-and-pop, not often do we feel that if we lived here, these people would be our friends. We’d hang out. We’d ride bikes, cast for speckled trout, toast the sunset. Not that these owners and staff really have time for all that – while being available if we needed anything, and always smiling, they quietly worked their butts off to keep this place super clean, with a homey – and at the same time, upscale – feel.
- VIBE: Lush, private, our home away from home. (Minus the stresses of our home.)
- WALK: Faraway Inn is located right in the quaint town (though it feels as though it is faraway) and Main street is a three minute walk, Dock street (and The Bar!) just beyond that, with all of the art galleries, shops and restaurants close by.
- DECOR: Artistic (see the mural in our room), eclectic. Creative use of color and pattern.
- SLEEP: YAY, someone else understands how important good sheets, and all-cotton, is. And the mattress… I was envisioning how to hoist it onto the top of CH’s SUV and take it home… do you think anyone would have noticed? Just kidding, Faraway!
- EXTRAS: PET FRIENDLY YAY, free use of bicycles – which we took full advantage of – kayaks, canoes, WiFi, coffee with condiments, dishes, glassware (wine glasses, thank you!) utensils, the fridge is bigger than a mini-fridge (cottages and efficiencies have stoves/ovens) pet-washing area, extra towels for your pets or the beach, grills, and a covered pavillion, see photos below, to while away the evening with a book and a glass of wine, while gazing at the water. You can rent a golf cart (we saw a bunch of them, smiling faces all, whizzing around the island.)
- RATES: From $90/ night; our Gulf View Room (a.k.a. heaven) is $135/night.
- WE LOVE: Where do we start? When we entered the room the sound system/radio was playing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” I am NOT MAKING THIS UP. We just loved… everything.
I took so many photos of this idyllic Inn that my camera, which has a million units of memory, said “NO MORE.” I’d like to continue to regale you with pics, but for now I’ll just show you some around-town charm and cheeriness:
Holey Moley, for breakfast and lunch
Many photo ops here: The Hideaway Tiki Bar
And I can’t leave you without some glimpses of the cracker cottages, stately Victorians, and more cottage/bungalow eye candy of this perfect little town:
As I get ready to publish this post to inspire you to travel to the lesser-known, yet every bit as entertaining – and possibly more convivial – small coastal Florida towns not crawling with bawdy tourists, the sky outside my window is gray and booming with thunder. And so, just a couple more sunny photos from this place I fell for at first glimpse, Cedar Key.
Cedar Key is on Florida’s gulf coast, approximately 135 miles north of Tampa, and 147 miles south of Tallahassee.